Linguist explains how slang like ‘rizz’ comes into being, catches fire with younger generations

Two Oxford English dictionaries with black covers stacked on top of each other.
An Oxford English Dictionary is shown at the headquarters of the Associated Press in New York. Oxford University Press has named “rizz″ as its word of the year, highlighting the popularity of a term used by Generation Z to describe someone’s ability to attract or seduce another person. AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File

If you hadn’t heard the word “rizz” prior to it being declared this year’s Oxford University Press “word of the year” this week, you’re probably not alone. 

The viral neologism, which is short for “charisma” and has come to mean “style, charm, or attractiveness,” is almost exclusively the linguistic territory of Gen Z. 

But this week, it’s enjoying newfound virality thanks to the increasing popularity of the annual word of the year lists put together by the leading dictionaries, says Adam Cooper, a teaching professor of linguistics at Northeastern. 

“It helps people to kind of reflect on what’s transpired over the last 12 months, and to think about where we, as a culture and a society, where our headspace is, so to speak,” Cooper says of the “word of the year” concept. 

“You see something like ‘rizz’ being selected as word of the year, and you quickly come to appreciate how diverse our society is, and how there are many different groups of people who can participate and contribute to it, each of which has their own collection of vocabulary,” he says.

In some cases, these vocabulary “items” can transcend the boundaries of their social groups and take root in the broader “public consciousness,” he says. 

Headshot of Adam Cooper.
Northeastern Teaching Professor Adam Cooper, a linguist. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“Rizz” joins “authentic” (Merriam-Webster), “hallucinate” (Cambridge) and “AI” (Collins) as the words of the year for 2023 — an exercise of linguistic appreciation put on annually by the leading dictionaries and lexical authorities. 

The Oxford languages have a voting system they use to determine their winning word, and often there are numerous other vocables in the running, Cooper says.

This year, the other top Oxford neologisms included “Swiftie,” describing Taylor Swift fans; “prompt,” a term closely linked to generative AI; and “situationship,” which describes an informal romantic affair. 


How did “rizz” become Oxford’s Word of the Year? And why does it matter? Northeastern linguist Adam Cooper shares his insight on the importance of slang in language. #rizz #rizzgod #wordoftheyear #news #slang #language #genz

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What does rizz symbolize culturally? “Speaking as a linguist, rizz is just a demonstration of how diverse and creative language is as a phenomenon,” Cooper says. 

How do new words come into being, and how do they catch fire?

Cooper says that languages don’t exist in a vacuum. Often, they shift and evolve, he says, “to meet the needs of its users.” 

Lexical authorities certainly understand this. Cooper says that most of the modern dictionary makers are descriptivists, meaning they track how language is actually being spoken by communities. Prescriptivists, on the other hand, believe there is a right and a wrong way to use language — that it’s “prescribed” per authority.

“Language in a way is a kind of tool that adapts … to be productive and allow for the creation of new vocabulary that captures the senses and sensibilities that established vocabulary may not be able to,” Cooper says. 

Language use in the internet age has potentially accelerated the process by which words are coined, then fashioned into products of mass culture. “You have this opportunity to get your ideas out in no time,” he says.

The relationship between social media influencers and their ready audiences clearly plays a role, Cooper says. Indeed, rizz is said to have originated on the streaming platform “Twitch,” and was first used by an influencer called Kai Cenat.

As has been the case with slang historically, the use of rizz may be rooted in certain social power dynamics.

“One of the sort of key components of slang is that it defines groups that are usually not in positions of authority,” Cooper says. “Members of the group use slang as a way to kind of set themselves apart from, and to push back from, authority.”

This is often why slang is associated with younger generations of speakers, he says.

Another hallmark of slang is that it’s ephemeral in nature, Cooper adds. Now that rizz has been elevated to the status of Oxford word of the year, it may soon lose its appeal and fall out of use. Indeed, many colloquialisms do, he says (remember “OK, Boomer”?).

“It’s no longer going to serve that function of group identity if it’s something that everyone is going to be using,” Cooper says. 

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on X/Twitter @tstening90.